409 F.3d 784 (6th Cir. 2005), 03-5017, Greene v. B.F. Goodrich Avionics Systems, Inc.

Docket Nº:Wausau Insurance Company, Intervening Plaintiff-Appellee (03-5017) Intervening Plaintiff (03-5018),
Citation:409 F.3d 784
Party Name:Judy GREENE, Executrix of the Estate of Donald Greene, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee/Cross-Appellant,
Case Date:May 20, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 784

409 F.3d 784 (6th Cir. 2005)

Judy GREENE, Executrix of the Estate of Donald Greene, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee/Cross-Appellant,

Wausau Insurance Company, Intervening Plaintiff-Appellee (03-5017) Intervening Plaintiff (03-5018),

v.

B.F. GOODRICH AVIONICS SYSTEMS, INC. d/b/a B.F. Goodrich Aerospace, Avionics and Lighting Division, n/k/a Goodrich Avionics Systems, Inc., Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

United Technologies Corporation d/b/a Sikorsky Aircraft, Defendant,

Petroleum Helicopters, Inc., Third-Party Defendant.

Nos. 03-5017, 03-5018.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

May 20, 2005

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ARGUED:

Arnold Taylor, O'Hara, Ruberg, Taylor, Sloan & Sergent, Covington, KY, for Appellant.

Paul M. De Marco, Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley, Cincinnati, OH, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Arnold Taylor, O'Hara, Ruberg, Taylor, Sloan & Sergent, Covington, KY, for Appellant.

Paul M. De Marco, Jean M. Geoppinger, Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley, Cincinnati, OH, Allan Weiss, Ferreri & Fogle, Louisville, KY, for Appellee.

Before COLE and ROGERS, Circuit Judges; and COHN, District Judge.[*]

ROGERS, Circuit Judge, joined. COLE, Circuit Judge (pp. 795-98), delivered a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

OPINION

COHN, District Judge.

This is a products liability case arising out of a helicopter accident. Defendant-Appellant B.F. Goodrich Avionics Systems, Inc. (Goodrich) appeals the district court's denial of Goodrich's motion for summary judgment of Plaintiff-Appellee Judy Greene's (Greene) manufacturing defect claim and the district court's subsequent denials of Goodrich's motions for judgment as a matter of law and motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict after a jury returned a verdict in favor of Greene.1 Greene cross-appeals a pre-trial order granting partial summary judgment to B.F. Goodrich and an evidentiary ruling by the district court. Because we find that Greene failed to produce sufficient evidence to create an issue of fact for the jury that there was a manufacturing defect, we REVERSE the judgment of the district court and REMAND for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

On the night of June 14, 1999, a Sikorsky 76-A helicopter, aircraft registration number N2743E, owned by Petroleum Helicopters, Inc. (PHI) and piloted by decedent Donald Greene (Greene), crashed into a wooded hillside near Jackson, Kentucky. In addition to Greene, pilot-in-command Ernest Jones (Jones) and two medical technician passengers, Sheila Zellers and Brian Harden, died in the accident.

The helicopter took off from Julian Carroll Airport just after 8:00 p.m. in heavy fog. Because visibility was approximately one-quarter to one-eighth of a mile, Greene was forced to rely almost exclusively on the helicopter's navigational instruments. Less than two minutes after

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the aircraft's liftoff, an exchange between Greene and Jones recorded on the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) indicated that Jones told Greene that the helicopter was in a right-hand turn and descending. The exchange between Greene and Jones continued as follows:

8:08:05 p.m. Greene: "Okay I think my gyro just quit."
8:08:10 p.m. Greene: "You have the controls?"
8:08:11 p.m. Jones: "You're in a left hand turn and descending ... turn,turn back and level, level us off."
8:08:18 p.m. Jones: "Right hand turn ... right hand turn."
8:08:24 p.m. [Initial sound of impact; CVR ceased operation]

B. Procedural Background Donald Greene's wife, Judy Greene, brought this suit, claiming that Goodrich defectively designed or manufactured the vertical gyroscope portion of the helicopter's navigation system and that Goodrich was negligent in failing to warn of its defective product. Goodrich filed a motion for summary judgment. The district court granted the motion in part and denied it in part. The district court summarily dismissed Greene's design defect claim because she produced no evidence of a flaw in the design. With respect to Greene's manufacturing defect claim, the district court held that Greene did not produce evidence of fault under a negligence theory, but it held that Greene's manufacturing defect claim sounding in strict liability could go to a jury because genuine issues of material fact remained with respect to causation. The district court also held that Greene could not maintain a state-law failure to warn claim because federal law regarding aviation standards preempted any duty imposed by state law. At trial on the manufacturing defect claim, the jury found for Greene and awarded her substantial damages. The jury also awarded damages to Wausau Insurance Co., which had been paying Greene workers' compensation on her husband's death. Goodrich now appeals (1) the district court's denial of Goodrich's summary judgment motion on the manufacturing defect claim; (2) the district court's denial of its motion for judgment as a matter of law at the end of Greene's case and at the end of the entire case; and (3) the district court's denial of its renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law. Greene cross-appeals, challenging the district court's grant of summary judgment on her failure to warn claim and the court's exclusion of evidence of gyroscope failures that occurred more than six months prior to the helicopter crash. C. Background on the Product at Issue Before proceeding to our analysis, it is first prudent to have an overview of the product Greene claims Goodrich defectively manufactured: the vertical gyroscopes on board the helicopter. The helicopter was equipped with two Attitude Display Indicators (ADIs), one Standby Attitude Indicator, and two Horizontal Situation Indicators (HSIs). ADIs indicate an aircraft's position in relation to the earth's horizon and help a pilot control the position of the aircraft relative to the earth. Each ADI in the helicopter displayed pitch, roll, and turn-rate data. The vertical gyroscopes, model number VG-204 A/B, manufactured by Goodrich, provided data to the helicopter's ADIs (which were not manufactured by Goodrich). The vertical gyroscopes were housed inside the nose of the helicopter and were not visible to the pilots during flight. Each ADI received pitch and roll data independently from its own vertical gyroscope. Each ADI also received turn-rate data from two other gyroscopes not manufactured by Goodrich. The vertical gyroscopes in the helicopter did not provide data to any other instrument on the helicopter. Pilots use HSIs to determine course deviation and magnetic heading information. The HSIs in the helicopter received information Page 788 from other gyroscopes. The Standby Attitude Indicator is a self-contained unit with its own gyroscope. II. ANALYSIS Because this case went to trial and resulted in a jury verdict in favor of Greene, we find it unnecessary to address whether the district court erred in failing to grant summary judgment in its entirety to Goodrich. Rather, our analysis will begin by addressing Goodrich's motion for judgment as a matter of law at the end of Greene's case. A. Whether the District Court Erred in Denying Goodrich's Motions for Judgment as a Matter of Law and Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law We review a district court's denial of judgment as a matter of law de novo. Moore v. KUKA Welding Sys. & Robot Corp., 171 F.3d 1073, 1078 (6th Cir. 1999). In cases like this one invoking diversity of citizenship jurisdiction, the Court applies the state law's substantive standard for determining when judgment as a matter of law is appropriate. Morales v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 151 F.3d 500, 506 (6th Cir. 1998); Darwish v. Tempglass Group, Inc., 26 Fed.Appx. 477, 482 (6th Cir. 2002). Under Kentucky law, judgment as a matter of law should be granted only when "there is a complete absence of proof on a material issue in the action, or if no disputed issue of fact exists upon which reasonable minds could differ." Washington v. Goodman, 830 S.W.2d 398, 400 (Ky.App.1992). "[E]very favorable inference which may reasonably be drawn from the evidence should be accorded the party against whom the motion is made." Baylis v. Lourdes Hosp., Inc., 805 S.W.2d 122, 125 (Ky.1991). 1. Judgment as a Matter of Law Goodrich says that the district court erred by not granting its motion for judgment as a matter of law against Greene both at the close of Greene's case and again at the close of trial. As discussed below, we find that the district court erred by not granting Goodrich's motion for judgment as a matter of law at the close of Greene's case. a. Manufacturing Defect Legal Standard Under Kentucky law, a manufacturing defect exists in a product when it leaves the hands of the manufacturer in a defective condition because it was not manufactured or assembled in accordance with its specifications. See Ford Motor Co. v. McCamish, 559 S.W.2d 507, 509-11 (Ky.App.1977). A manufacturing defect claim requires the jury to determine whether the product failed because of an error in the process of manufacture or assembly. Id. With respect to Greene's strict liability theory, Kentucky has adopted RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 402A. See Dealers Transport Co. v. Battery Distrib. Co., 402 S.W.2d 441, 446-47 (Ky.App.1965). Under § 402A, the defendant is held strictly liable if the plaintiff proves the product was "in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer." Montgomery Elevator Co. v. McCullough by McCullough, 676 S.W.2d 776, 780 (Ky.1984). Proceeding...

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